A Year of Magical Thinking examines Joan Didion’s life and methods of mourning following the death of her husband of forty years, John Dunne.
Throughout the novel, Didion details her avoidance of, then obsession over, the sudden cardiac event one December night that killed the love of her life. The added stress of her daughter, Quintana Roo, being in the hospital on life support at the time leads to an nervous breakdown of sorts–and an examination of the nature of grieving and mourning itself.
I was first introduced to Didion’s writing about a year ago, and she quickly became one of my favorite authors of all time. That being said, I was a little reluctant to read this book- I knew that the subject matter would be darker and sadder than her usual writing style. Still, I was thoroughly impressed. Despite the turmoil in her personal life, Didion keeps her writing clean and precise, and doesn’t dwell on heavy-handed clichés about grief to convey her ideas; in fact, she even rejects some of these clichés (especially those about ‘healing’ and ‘coping’) as unrealistic.
Even so, the reader can feel her pain through her writing. She and John were inseparable- she even cites an instance when she was in San Francisco for a week writing a piece, and he would fly up from Santa Monica every night to have dinner with her before flying home again to be with their daughter. The loss hits her hard, and it’s apparent- she struggles desperately to keep herself sane and strong, for the sake of her daughter.